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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria - Dramma in musica
L’Humana fragilità ... Brian Asawa (counter-tenor)
Tempo ... Jaco Huijpen (bass)
Fortuna ... Monica Bacelli (soprano)
Amore ... Machteld Baumans (soprano)
Ulisse ... Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
Penelope ... Graciela Araya (mezzo)
Telemaco ... Toby Spence (tenor)
Antinoo ... Jaco Huijpen (bass)
Pisandro ... Christopher Gillett (tenor)
Anfinomo ... Brian Asawa (counter-tenor)
Eurimaco ... Mark Tucker (tenor)
Iro ... Alexander Oliver (tenor)
Melanto ... Monica Bacelli (soprano)
Eumete ... Adrian Thompson (tenor)
Minerva ... Diana Montague (soprano)
Baroque Ensemble/Glen Wilson
Recorded at Het Muziektheater Amsterdam, October 1998
DVD OPUS ARTE OA0926D (PAL format) or OA 0927D (NTSC format) [2 DVDs: 178 minutes]




Cut and paste is a marvellous facility: but when you have chopped and changed, it is a good idea to review the ‘new’ whole to ensure that there are no bloopers leaving you with paste (not egg) on your face. So what is cut? Out go Jove, Neptune and Juno the quarrelling gods – ‘irrelevant’ says Musical Director Glen Wilson. The Phæacians do not get a mention, no ship is turned to stone, the dancing moors are despatched without a word, as is poor old Ericlea. There are several libretto cuts. The significant ‘paste’ involves moving Act 2 scene 11, where Mother and Son converse about his travels, back to the end of Scene 3. I will return to that.

Thus, in principle, this is Monteverdi’s opera according to Glen Wilson. At least he lets the singers sing. And for that we must be grateful because for the most part they do that well indeed.

If Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s voice is beginning to sound a little dry, his power and colouring are in glorious form: power that almost has its own echo-chamber effect; dynamics that deserve study with occasional gentle floated notes that he leaves hanging. Diana Montague (Minerva) is his guardian ... and how. Clear diction, ringing words, strong runs: a voice as fine as ever. Together, they are excellent.

Graciela Araya (Penelope), when lento and in mezzo register produces a deep, creamy almost velvet sound. I enjoyed particularly her Torna il tranquillo al mare sung over the sleeping Ulysse. Hers is not the most beautiful instrument when in soprano register with some loss of word clarity. However with Monica Bacelli (Melanto) she produces again a warm, open, focused line that adds so much to their interaction.

Bacelli doubles as Fortune (yes, the Prologue is still with us) where I thought there were some worryingly un-middled high notes. Although vocally focused with Mark Tucker’s Eurimaco, she again seemed vocally and dramatically restless whilst he groped away. Once all that was over she fell to trying to persuade Penelope to move on in Cara amata Regina. There appeared a depth of acting and beautiful seductive sound to lead into a seriously moving Ama dunque.

In this production, Tucker is not a convincing Eurimaco. He seems to find difficulty with the staccato, but then moves on with some fine legato and colouring. Toby Spence (Telemaco) takes a crisp clear line from his first note and seemed effortless in producing a smooth tone with acting to match. His voice balances extremely well with both Montague and later Rolfe Johnson. Adrian Thompson (Eumete) does not have the strongest voice and occasionally it produces an uncalled for vibrato: but he has superb diction with not a syllable missed and good dynamics within his range. With Rolfe Johnson there is an excellent vocal complement.

Sadly I do not think that the trio of suitors, Jaco Huijpen (Antinoo), Christopher Gillett (Pisandro) and Brian Asawa (Anfinomo) are great wooers. There is no particular delight evident in their attempts at persuasion in offering themselves or their crowns. However, when they become conspirators they seem to relish the character change / development. Asawa’s high-seated sound balances excellently with Gillett’s clear tenor and Huijpen’s (occasionally somewhat forced) bass.

Iro, the stuttering glutton, who supposedly provides some comic relief, affords little here. The early words are delivered in a mixture of spoken/sung text with a vibrato which does not help. Only mutterings and a blown raspberry produce an audience laugh. His supposed imitation of a lamentation is delivered as the lamentation itself and excites no sympathy for a blood-smeared and wounded character.

Asawa and Huijpen ‘double’ in the Prologue also (L’Humana fragilità and Tempo) with Machteld Baumans joining as a secure note and run Amore.

Glen Wilson leads the Baroque Ensemble that just manages not to threaten the supremacy of the singers. Some of the arpeggiated chords are very powerful for scene-setting and vocal support.

In the brief accompanying notes by Wilson he refers to re-arranging the order. OK. But really someone ought to have noted that if you move the Telemaco and Penelope interchange forward, then later it is a little pointless for Eumate to tell Penelope that Telemaco has returned and even later for the suitors to plan gifts for Penelope before Telemaco arrives. And if you must have slaughter with swords then should not the relevant words and subtitles have been changed to substitute ‘swords’ for ‘arrows’? Pedantic? Probably; but silly lapses are fodder to the cannon of critics of our “exotick and irrational entertainment”. An entertainment which never (and I mean never) fails to interest if not delight me for otherwise I would not be writing this and perhaps you would not be reading it either.

Robert McKechnie



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